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Honduras - 2009 Election

Honduras is a constitutional, multiparty republic. On 28 June 2009, the military forcibly removed and sent into exile President Jose Manuel Zelaya. The coup took place just as the president was trying to introduce land redistribution reforms and a referendum to call for a constituent assembly to change the county’s constitution. Congress President Roberto Micheletti Bain became the leader of a de facto regime. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton never supported Zelaya’s reinstatement, but leaned toward new elections. This stance from the influential and imperialist nation allowed for the Honduran military to install National Assembly President Roberto Micheletti, with close ties to Clinton allies and the nation’s large business interests, as interim president.

Until the June 28 coup d'etat (June coup), the country was a constitutional, multiparty democracy with a population of approximately eight million. The coup was preceded by months of political tension between the executive and other branches of government in relation to an executive proposal to hold a referendum on convening a constitutional assembly to consider reforms to the constitution. Although the coup was bloodless, subsequent related events resulted in the loss of life as well as limitations by the de facto regime on freedom of movement, association, expression, and assembly. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces prior to the June coup, there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of government authority.

The following human rights problems were reported: unlawful killings by members of the police and government agents; arbitrary and summary killings committed by vigilantes and former members of the security forces; harsh prison conditions; violence against detainees, and corruption and impunity within the security forces; lengthy pretrial detention and failure to provide due process of law; arbitrary detention and disproportionate use of force by security forces after the June coup; politicization, corruption, and institutional weakness of the judiciary; erosion of press freedom; corruption in the legislative and executive branches; limitations on freedom of movement and association; government restrictions on recognition of some nongovernmental organizations (NGOs); violence and discrimination against women; child prostitution and abuse; trafficking in persons; discrimination against indigenous communities; violence and discrimination against persons based on sexual orientation; ineffective enforcement of labor laws; and child labor.

In the month before the June coup, there was significant controversy over the legality of a public opinion poll proposed by the executive branch that would have asked whether in the general elections a question would be added about holding a constituent national assembly to produce a new constitution. Some groups believed that the constituent assembly was unconstitutional and represented a means for President Zelaya to eliminate constitutionally mandated term limits and remain in office beyond his four-year term. On May 28, the Office of the National Commissioner of Human Rights publicly denounced efforts by the executive branch to obligate each civil service employee to gather 40 signatures in favor of the public opinion poll. Also on May 28, an administrative court judge abrogated the president's decree ordering the June 28 public opinion poll. The judge instructed all government agencies to suspend all publicity and logistical activities associated with the poll. This decision was upheld by an appellate court ruling on June 16 and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on June 25.

The constitution prohibits forced exile. On June 28, the military removed President Zelaya from his home and forced him into exile in Costa Rica. On June 29, the military forced Foreign Minister Patricia Rodas to board an aircraft and transported her to exile in Mexico. On July 5, President Zelaya attempted to return to the country by aircraft; however, the military placed obstacles on the runway at Toncontin Airport and prevented his landing. On July 24, the military set up approximately 20 checkpoints between the city of El Paraiso and the Las Manos border crossing into Nicaragua and reportedly prohibited demonstrators from leaving the border area during a 24 hour curfew.

During the political crisis following the June coup, demonstrations occurred throughout the country. Curfews were arbitrarily implemented during which security forces employed disproportionate use of force, resulting in some cases of loss of life and acts of vandalism by protestors. The de facto regime also limited freedom of assembly and restricted freedom of the press. Most notably, on July 1, September 26, and October 5, the de facto regime enacted decrees that suspended the constitution during curfew hours and placed substantial restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

Although most political protests following the June coup were reportedly peaceful, some protests ended violently. The HNP stated that between June 29 and August 15, 11 police officers and 18 members of the military were injured due to confrontations with anticoup demonstrators. Demonstrations involved rock throwing, burning of tires, and vandalism of businesses. Other general violence following the June coup included the detonation of small explosive devices at the bar association, and the headquarters of the Liberal Party and the pro-Zelaya Popular Bloque movement.

There were a number of reported cases where the de facto regime used excessive force to impede freedom of peaceful assembly. For example, NGOs alleged that during a July 24 anticoup demonstration at the Las Manos border crossing, security forces used disproportionate force to quash the protest. Herman Valladares reported to the IACHR delegation that police physically assaulted him while he was protesting peacefully at the Las Manos demonstration. At year's end there were no further developments regarding an investigation.

On November 29, voters elected Porfirio "Pepe" Lobo of the National Party for a four-year term to the presidency, in elections that international observers considered to be generally free and fair. Following November 2009 elections, which the international community generally recognized as free and fair, Porfirio “Pepe” Lobo assumed the presidency in January 2010 and formed a government of national unity including all five registered political parties.

Security forces broke up an anticoup protest on November 29, but there were no reports of widespread violence or that voters were unable to cast ballots or intimidated. There were some reported instances of violence in the weeks leading up to the November elections. For example, on September 6, security forces reported that a number of persons were detained or injured during a protest at a public appearance by liberal party presidential candidate Elvin Santos. However, presidential candidates generally were able to campaign freely. Political parties could operate without restriction or outside interference. Women participated actively in politics. Women held 31 of 128 seats in the National Congress. Twenty-seven women were alternate members of congress. Five women sat on the 13-member executive board of congress, and 16 women presided over congressional committees. Prior to the June coup, there were three female secretaries of state; 10 women holding positions as ministers, directors, or representatives of executive-level departments; one female general police commissioner; and five female ambassadors.

Security forces reported to civilian authorities, but there were instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently of civilian control. Among the most serious human rights problems were corruption within the national police force, institutional weakness of the judiciary, and discrimination and violence against vulnerable populations. Police and government agents committed unlawful killings. Vigilantes and former members of the security forces carried out arbitrary and summary killings. There continued to be reports of killings of agricultural workers, private security guards, and security forces related to a land dispute in the Bajo Aguan region. Other human rights problems included harsh prison conditions, violence against detainees, lengthy pretrial detentions and failure to provide legal due process, child prostitution and abuse, trafficking in persons, ineffective enforcement of labor laws, and child labor.

The government took important steps to strengthen respect for human rights and promote national reconciliation, as well as to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses. However, corruption and impunity were serious problems that impeded the effectiveness of the National Police.

Porfirio Lobo Sosa remained president until 2014 and presided over Honduras during an era of record-breaking murder rates. In 2011 and 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world and, in 2014, an average of 66 out of every 100,000 residents were killed. Organized crime skyrocketed during the Lobo administration. Citizens were forced to pay out US$200 million to Honduran gangs in 2014, or face violence and possible death. In this context more than 13,000 Honduran minors sought new lives in the U.S. between 2013 May 2014 alone — a 1272 percent increase over 2009 migration rates.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2021 19:01:20 ZULU